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Neil Diamond

Neil Leslie Diamond (born January 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter and occasional actor.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Diamond was a successful pop music performer, scoring a number of hits in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. As critic William Ruhlmann writes, "as of 2001, he claimed worldwide record sales of 115 million copies, and as of 2002 he was ranked third, behind only Elton John and Barbra Streisand, on the list of the most successful adult contemporary artists in the history of the Billboard chart." As of May 2005 he had sold 120 million records worldwide, including 48 million records in the U.S.

Though his record sales declined somewhat after the 1980s, Diamond continues to tour successfully, and maintains a very loyal following. Diamond's songs have been recorded by a vast array of performers from many different musical genres.

Diamond was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, and then in 2000 was given Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award.

Biography

Early life and career

Neil Diamond was born into a Russian and Polish family and reared in New York City, growing up in the borough of Brooklyn, New York, and he attended Erasmus Hall and Abraham Lincoln High Schools. At Erasmus Hall, he took part in SING! and sang in the school choir with Barbra Streisand, who was then spelling her name "Barbara." At Lincoln, the school from which he received his high school diploma, he was a member of the fencing team, and even to this time, he still warms up with fencing exercises before his concerts. He learned to play guitar after receiving one as a gift on his 16th birthday, and has cited Pete Seeger as an early inspiration.

Diamond was awarded a fencing scholarship to New York University, and was a pre-med student, interested in biology, but dropped out with less than a year left, both due to his dislike of organic chemistry and to pursue a career in music.

Diamond’s first recording contract was in 1960 with the Duel Records label, as "Neil and Jack," an Everly Brothers type duo, with a high school friend, Jack Packer. They recorded the single "What Will I Do," but it was unsuccessful. In 1962, Diamond signed with the Columbia Records label as a solo performer. He released the single "At Night," backed with "Clown Town." Despite a tour of radio stations the single failed to make the music charts, and Columbia dropped Diamond. Soon after this, Diamond was back to writing songs on an upright piano above the Birdland Club.

He spent his early career as a writer in the Brill Building, and had an early success writing the songs "I'm a Believer", "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," and Love to Love which were recorded by The Monkees. There is a popular misconception that Diamond wrote and composed these songs specifically for the "Pre-Fab Four." In reality, Diamond had written, composed, and recorded these songs for release himself, but the cover versions were released before his own. The unintended, but happy, consequence of this was that Diamond began to gain fame not only as a singer and performer, but also as a songwriter. "Believer" was the Popular Music Song of the Year in 1966.

The 1960s

Diamond then signed a deal with Bang Records label in 1966. "Solitary Man" was his first hit on the music charts, and Diamond followed it with "Kentucky Woman," "Cherry, Cherry" and other hits. An alternate version of "Cherry Cherry" can be found on the "In My Lifetime" album. Diamond's Bang recordings were produced by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, both of whom can be heard singing backgrounds on many of the tracks.

His first concerts saw him being a "special guest" of, or opening for, everyone from Herman's Hermits to, on one occasion, The Who, which he confirmed on an installment of VH1's documentary series program Behind The Music.

However, Diamond began to feel restricted by Bang Records, and wanted to record more ambitious, introspective music. Finding a loophole in his contract with Bang, Diamond tried to sign with a new record label, but the result was a series of lawsuits that coincided with a dip in Diamond's professional success. Diamond eventually triumphed in court, and secured ownership of his BANG-era master recordings in 1977.

The 1970s

After Diamond had signed a deal with the MCA Records label of Universal Pictures' parent company, MCA Inc., whose label was then called the Uni Records label in the late 1960s, he moved to Los Angeles, California in 1970. His sound mellowed, with such songs as "'Cracklin' Rosie," "Sweet Caroline," and the country-and-western tinged "Song Sung Blue", which reached #1 on the Hot 100. "Sweet Caroline" was Diamond's first major hit after his slump. Diamond recently admitted in 2007 he had written "Sweet Caroline" for Caroline Kennedy after seeing her on the cover of Time magazine in an equestrian riding outfit. It took him just one hour in a Memphis hotel to pen the song. The song is now regularly heard at the ground of League One football side Carlisle United - it is the song the players make their entrance to.

In 1972, Diamond played ten sold out concerts at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The performance on Thursday August the 24th was recorded and released as the live double album Hot August Night. This album demonstrates Diamond's skills as a performer and showman, as he reinvigorated his back catalogue of hits with new energy; critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls Hot August Night "the ultimate Neil Diamond record ... shows Diamond the icon in full glory."The album has become a classic, and in Australia, spent a remarkable 29 weeks at number 1 on the music charts; in 2006, it was voted #16 in a poll of favourite albums of all time in Australia. The 1977 concert Love at The Greek, a return to the Greek Theatre, includes a version of "Song Sung Blue" with duets with Helen Reddy and Henry Winkler a.k.a. Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli of Happy Days.

In 1973, Diamond hopped labels again, this time returning, at great expense, to the Columbia Records label, where he recorded the soundtrack to Hall Bartlett's film version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which grossed more than the film itself did. The film received hostile reviews and did poor box-office business, and even Richard Bach, author of the source story, disowned the film. In 1974, Diamond released the album Serenade, from which the songs "Longfellow Serenade" and "I've Been This Way Before" were released. The second of those, though it had been intended for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull score, was completed too late for inclusion on it. In 1976, he released Beautiful Noise, produced by The Band's Robbie Robertson.

On Thanksgiving night, 1976, Neil made an appearance at The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz. He performed one song, "Dry Your Eyes", which he had jointly written and composed with The Band's Robbie Robertson, and which had appeared on what was then his most recent album, Beautiful Noise. In addition, he joined the rest of the performers onstage at the end in a rendition of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released.

In 1976, Diamond released an album titled I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight, which included the selection "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." He had composed its music and collaborated on its lyrics with Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. The song was covered by Barbra Streisand on her album Songbird, which led Gary Guthrie, then Program Director at WAKY Radio in Louisville, Kentucky, to combine the two recordings in a virtual duet. The popularity of the virtual duet motivated Diamond and Streisand to record the real thing, which was a number one hit in 1978 and became his third song to top the Hot 100 to date. His last 1970s album was September Morn, which includes his version of I'm a Believer. It and Red Red Wine are the two best-known selections of his authorship and composition to have had other artists make them more famous than his own versions.

The 1980s to present

A movie version of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" was planned to star Diamond and Streisand, but plans fell through when Diamond starred in a remake of the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer in 1980, opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. Though the movie was not a blockbuster hit at the box office, the soundtrack was a hugely successful album, spawning the Top 10 singles "Love on the Rocks", "Hello Again", and "America". For his role in the film itself, Diamond became the first ever Winner of a Worst Actor Razzie Award, yet he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the same role.

Another Top 10 chart selection, "Heartlight," was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Though the film's title character is never actually mentioned anywhere in the lyrics, Universal Pictures, which had released E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and was the parent company of the Uni Records label, by then referred to as the MCA Records label, for which Diamond had recorded for years, briefly threatened legal action against both Diamond and the Columbia Records label.

As noted previously, Diamond's record sales slumped somewhat in the 1980s and 1990s; indeed, as of this time, his last single to make the Billboard charts was released in 1986. However, he continued to make profitable tours.

Diamond sang the national anthem at Super Bowl XXI in January, 1987.

The 1990s and 2000s saw a resurgence in Diamond's popularity. His song "America" was a theme song for Michael Dukakis's 1988 Presidential campaign, and later used in promotional advertisements for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. "Sweet Caroline" is a popular sing-along at sporting events, most notably being the theme song for the Red Sox Nation (even thought Neil Diamond frequently describes himself as a life long "Yankee fan" during concerts) and at Boston College Football and Basketball games; is sung during the 8th inning of every Mets home game at Shea Stadium, and Washington Nationals games. The New York Rangers also have adopted it as their own and play in when they are winning at the end of the 3rd period. Urge Overkill recorded a memorable version of Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" for Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, released in 1994. In the 2001 comedy film Saving Silverman the main characters play in a Neil Diamond cover band, and Diamond made an extended cameo appearance as himself. During this period, Will Ferrell did a recurring impersonation of Neil on Saturday Night Live, with Diamond himself appearing alongside Ferrell on his final show as a Not Ready For Prime Time Player in May 2002. The Finnish band HIM covered "Solitary Man" on their album And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997-2004. Other notable artists who have covered Neil Diamond songs are Elvis Presley, who interpreted "Sweet Caroline" and "And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind," the musical team Deep Purple, which interpreted "Kentucky Woman," Lulu, who covered "The Boat That I Row," Cliff Richard, who released versions of "I'll Come Running," "Solitary Man" "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "I Got The Feelin' (Oh No, No,)" UB40, whose version of "Red Red Wine", like the Monkees's version of "I'm a Believer", became, as previously noted, better known than Diamond's original, and T. G. Sheppard and Johnny Cash, who each covered "Solitary Man." Despite Diamond's Jewish faith, he has released a number of Christmas albums.

Diamond has always had a somewhat polarizing effect, best exemplified by the 1991 film What About Bob? There the protagonist posits, "There are two types of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't." The character "Bob" attributes the failure of his marriage to his fiancee's fondness for Neil Diamond.

Today, Diamond continues to tour and record. 12 Songs, recorded with producer Rick Rubin was released on November 8, 2005 in two editions: a standard 12-song release, and a special edition with two bonus tracks, including one featuring backing vocals by Brian Wilson. The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard album chart, and has received generally positive reviews; Earliwine describes the album as "inarguably Neil Diamond's best set of songs in a long, long time." 12 Songs also ended up being infamous for being one of the last albums to be pressed and released by Sony BMG with the infamous XCP digital rights management software embedded onto the disc. (See the 2005 Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal.)

On December 31, 2005 Diamond appeared on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 2006.

On January 15, 2006, Diamond performed a concert on the opening night of the new Stockton Arena in Stockton, California. Diamond had been paid a $1,000,000 fee to perform, but, due to slow ticket sales and inadequate time to promote the event, the city budget suffered a nearly $400,000 loss that resulted in the dismissal of the Stockton city manager several days later.

In December 2007, a 2008 UK tour was announced calling at Manchester on June 7th & 8th, Birmingham on June 10th & 11th, & London on the June 21st, 23rd & 24th.

In January 2008 further UK dates were added including Hampden Park in Glasgow on the 5th June, Rose Bowl, Southampton on the 17th June & the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the 19th June.

On Sunday January 13, 2008, The UK's Mail on Sunday issued a free DVD of The Jazz Singer.

On January 31, 2008 it was announced that he will appear at the upcoming Glastonbury Festival in the UK.

He was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, 2007.

On May 27th, 2006 he was given an Honorary Doctorate from San Francisco State University (SFSU).

Diamond's new album "Home Before Dark" will be released on May 6th 2008.

Personal life

Diamond married school teacher Jaye Posner in 1963 and they had two children, Marjorie and Elyn. This relationship ended in divorce in 1969. That year, Diamond married Marcia Murphey; they also had two children, both sons; the first was Jesse Michael Diamond, born in 1970, and the second was Micah Joseph Diamond, born February 14, 1978. Diamond's second marriage failed in 1995, and Diamond paid Marcia a divorce settlement of approximately $150 million, said to be the fourth-largest divorce settlement in history. Neil's answer to this was, "She was worth every penny." He has been involved with Australian native Rachel "Rae" Farley, 31 years his junior, since 1996, having met her while she was handling merchandising during his 1996 Australian tour.

Diamond is a fan of the Australian Rules Football team the Brisbane Lions as his girlfriend is a native of Brisbane, Australia. He stated this in newspaper interviews that appeared leading up to and during his March 2005 tour of Australia. "Dinkum Diamond barracks for Lions," which correspondent Paul Stewart reported from Los Angeles in The Sunday Mail, August 22, 2004, and "Diamond lustre," published in The Courier Mail on March 11, 2005, tell more of the story.

Diamond belongs to that group of a small number of performers such as David Bowie, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd (from 1975's Wish You Were Here onward), Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Genesis (though under the members' individual names and/or the pseudonym Gelring Limited) and Johnny Rivers who have their name as the copyright owner on their recordings. (Most records have the recording company as the named owner of the recording.)

Helping The Planet

In April 1992,the internationally successful Australian artist, Sharon Davson invited Neil Diamond to launch a project with her to assist endangered species awareness. And he did. At a press conference in the Regent Hotel, Neil and Sharon launched the Hands Up project of Artists For Life. This involved Neil donating his autographed hand prints to help raise funds and awareness for the work of the small charity. However, the impact of the initiative spread, and over the years, Sharon has personally painted the hands of over 400 world leaders from many fields of endeavor. The concept has been copied by many other people and causes leading to countless funds raised for numerous causes.